Dr. Paul E. Hardin, University Distinguished Professor and holder of the John W. Lyons Jr. ’59 Chair in Biology at Texas A&M University, has been honored by the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Biology with its inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award.
The annual award and lecture series was established in 2018 to honor former Indiana Biology undergraduate and graduate students who have gone on to make exceptional contributions to fields within the broad umbrella of the biological sciences.
Hardin, who earned his doctorate in genetics from Indiana in 1987 and a bachelor of science in biology from Southern Methodist University in 1982, was selected for the prestigious honor by a committee composed of IU Bloomington faculty. He will be presented with an honorarium and a commemorative plaque at an awards ceremony set for Thursday, October 18, in Bloomington.
“IU was a fantastic choice for my Ph.D. studies,” Hardin said. “I received superb training in genetics and molecular biology at IU, which contributed greatly to my success as a scientist. I also met my wife, a fellow Ph.D. student and lab mate, during graduate school, so IU had a huge impact on every aspect of my life.”
As the inaugural award recipient, Hardin also will deliver an invited lecture, “Genetic Architecture Underlying Circadian Clock Initiation, Maintenance and Output in Drosophila,” detailing his career scholarship, including postdoctoral work that proved key to an eventual 2017 Nobel Prize-winning discovery.
Hardin, an expert in the molecular genetics of circadian rhythms, has served as director of the Texas A&M Center for Biological Clocks Research since 2006. Prior to returning to the Texas A&M Department of Biology faculty in 2005, he previously held faculty positions at the University of Houston (1995-2005) and Texas A&M (1991-1995). Hardin was appointed as a distinguished professor — Texas A&M’s highest honorific faculty rank — in 2008 and was recognized with a 2017 Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Research.
Hardin’s research during the past two decades has helped to establish the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a premier model organism for studying the circadian clock. Because fruit flies undergo many of the same physiological processes as larger creatures, including humans, they serve as model organisms, allowing researchers such as Hardin to define mechanisms that control physiology more efficiently than in more complex animals.
As a postdoctoral fellow in Michael Rosbash’s laboratory at Brandeis University from 1987 to 1991, Hardin was the first author on a seminal 1990 paper cited in the breakthrough biological clocks research recognized with the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in what Hardin then described as “a proud moment for circadian clocks.” He discovered that a circadian feedback loop in gene expression keeps time in the brain of the fruit fly over the course of a day — a breakthrough that established the mechanistic framework for circadian timekeeping, not only in Drosophila, but also ultimately in higher organisms, including humans. That single paper went on to form the basis for a large body of research into the molecular nature of circadian timekeeping in both Drosophila and mammals. Many discoveries since have profoundly influenced our understanding of the role the human clock plays in health and disease.
In the early years of his independent career, Hardin’s research group also identified the so-called “e-box” regulatory element that drives rhythmic transcription required for both circadian timekeeping and controlling rhythmic behavior and physiology, discovered multiple feedback loops of gene expression controlling rhythmic transcription peaking at other times during a daily cycle, and characterized a well-defined physiological output of this rhythmic gene expression in the form of rhythms in the sense of smell. More recently in 2010, Hardin’s research showed the clock that influences Drosophila’s sense of taste in cells on the insect’s tongue, or proboscis, as well as its eating habits, providing valuable insight into obesity and other eating disorders.
By pinpointing genes that control additional circadian clock function in fruit flies, Hardin continues to shed light on how the human clock operates and also possibly reveal novel targets for the development of drugs to treat disorders caused by clock dysfunction, such as metabolic syndrome, jetlag, advanced and delayed sleep-phase syndromes, and even cancer.
In recognition of his contributions to the field of rhythms research, Hardin received the 2003 Aschoff-Honma Prize from the Honma Life Science Foundation in Japan. He served as president of the world’s premier society for the research of circadian biology, the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Genetics Society of American, and the Society for Neuroscience. Hardin has authored more than 100 publications and been cited more than 6,500 times.
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